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Dumbing it down fails

Computerworld just published an article, “12 predictions for the future of programming.” Future of programming prediction No. 10: Dumbing it down will fail is the one that caught my eye. It reads:

For the past 50 years, programmers have tried to make it easy for people to learn programming, and for 50 years they’ve succeeded — but only at teaching the most basic tasks. Ninety-five percent of the world may be able to figure out if-then-else structures, but that’s not the same thing as being a programmer.

I think that the same thing is true of amateur radio. We’ve dumbed down the Tech exam to allow more people to enter the hobby. I think that’s OK. We need a way to get people interested in amateur radio, and there is a place for operators who only want to do the very simple things like get an HT and talk through repeaters. “Real ham radio,” though, is about learning how circuits work and how to build your own antennas and, increasingly, how to program digital signal processing algorithms. That’s hard stuff, but there’s no way around that. We need to encourage people to acquire this knowledge and skills.

For me, this means is that while I’m OK with the Tech license being relatively easy to get, perhaps the General and Extra Class tickets should be harder to get. Maybe we should expect more from Generals and Extras. We should expect them to really know stuff.

I’m not saying that we should be hovering over them, ready to pounce on them the minute they say something stupid. It is still just a hobby, after all, and we can’t expect amateur radio licensees to be electronics engineers. We can, however, create an environment that values learning and encourages people to ask good questions so that they can get better at being radio amateurs.

I know that this is only a partly-baked idea, but I think we need to move in this direction. Not only that, it’s up to us old-timers (old farts?) to set the tone and lead the way. What do you think?

2014 Tech study guide index

I’ve now update all of the sections for the 2014 version of the No-Nonsense Technician Class License Study Guide. Here’s an index to all of the sections:

2014 Tech study guide: ID, repeaters, club stations

Proper station identification is also very important. The basic rule is that an amateur station is required to transmit its assigned call sign at least every 10 minutes during and at the end of a communication. (T1F03) The only time an amateur station may transmit without identifying is when transmitting signals to control a model craft. (T1D11)

The English language is the only acceptable language for use for station identification when operating in a phone sub-band. (T1F04) Sending the call sign using CW or phone emission is the required method of call sign identification for a station transmitting phone signals. (T1F05)

For some types of operations, using a tactical call is allowed. A tactical call describes the function of the station or the location of a station. For example, a tactical call is the type of identification being used when identifying a station on the air as “Race
Headquarters.” (T1F01) When using tactical identifiers such as “Race Headquarters” during a community service net operation, your station must transmit the station’s FCC-assigned call sign at the end of each communication and every ten minutes during a communication. (T1F02)

When operating mobile or portable, or when you wish to note something about your station, you may use a self-assigned call sign indicator, such as “/3,” “mobile,” or “QRP.” All of these choices are correct when choosing formats for self-assigned indicators that are acceptable when identifying using a phone transmission. (T1F06)

  • KL7CC stroke W3
  • KL7CC slant W3
  • KL7CC slash W3

Indicators required by the FCC to be transmitted after a station call sign include /KT, /AE or /AG when using new license privileges earned by CSCE while waiting for an upgrade to a previously issued license to appear in the FCC license database. (T1F08)

Third-party communications are communications on behalf of someone who is not the station licensee. For example, if you have a friend over to your house and let him or her talk on your radio, that is a third-party communication.

These are entirely legal within the United States, but there are some restrictions when you are in contact with an amateur station in a foreign country. The FCC rules authorize the transmission of non-emergency, third party communications to any station whose government permits such communications.(T1F11) A non-licensed person is allowed to speak to a foreign station using a station under the control of a Technician Class control operator only if  the foreign station is one with which the U.S. has a third party agreement. (T1F07)

Finally—and I do mean finally—the station licensee must make the station and its records available for FCC inspection any time upon request by an FCC representative. (T1F13) They’re not going to knock on your door at 3 a.m. some morning to take a look at your shack, but one of your obligations as a licensee is to make your station and your records available when requested to do so.

2014 Tech study guide: authorized and prohibited transmissions

As a licensed radio amateur, it’s important to know what you can and can’t do on the air. For example, any language that is considered obscene or indecent is prohibited. (T1D06). For the most part, transmitting music is also prohibited. The only time an amateur station is authorized to transmit music is when incidental to an authorized retransmission of manned spacecraft communications (T1D04).

Transmitting any codes whose specifications are not published or well-known is prohibited. The transmission of codes or ciphers that hide the meaning of a message transmitted by an amateur station is allowed only when transmitting control commands to space stations or radio control craft (T1D03).

Amateur radio operators are only allowed to communicate with other amateur radio stations, except in specific instances. For example, in an emergency, you are allowed to communicate with stations in other radio services. Another example is during the special event called Armed Forces Day Communications Test. An FCC-licensed amateur station may exchange messages with a U.S. military station during an Armed Forces Day Communications Test (T1D02).

FCC-licensed amateur stations are prohibited from exchanging communications with any country whose administration has notified the ITU that it objects to such communications. (T1D01) Currently, there are no countries that U.S. amateurs are prohibited from contacting.

Amateur radio operators may not use their stations to make money, except in some very special circumstances. For example, the control operator of an amateur station may receive compensation for operating the station only when the communication is incidental to classroom instruction at an educational institution (T1D08). Amateur radio operators may use their stations to notify other amateurs of the availability of equipment for sale or trade, but only when the equipment is normally used in an amateur station and such activity is not conducted on a regular basis (T1D05).

All amateur communications must be station to station. That is to say, amateur radio operators may not broadcast. The term broadcasting in the FCC rules for the amateur services means transmissions intended for reception by the general public (T1D10). Only when transmitting code practice, information bulletins, or transmissions necessary to provide emergency communications may an amateur radio station engage in broadcasting. (T1D12)

Amateur stations are authorized to transmit signals related to broadcasting, program production, or news gathering, assuming no other means is available, only where such communications directly relate to the immediate safety of human life or protection of property. (T1D09).

So, what is allowed? Communications incidental to the purposes of the amateur service and remarks of a personal character are the types of international communications that are permitted by an FCC-licensed amateur station (T1C03).

2014 Tech study guide: operator licensing

Technician, General, Amateur Extra are the license classes for which new licenses are currently available from the FCC. (T1C13) You may operate a transmitter on an amateur service frequency after you pass the examination required for your first amateur radio license as soon as your name and call sign appear in the FCC’s ULS database (T1C10). Ten years is the normal term for an FCC-issued primary station/operator amateur radiolicense grant (T1C08).

When the FCC issues an amateur radio operator license, it also issues a station license. The call sign of that station consists of one or two letters, followed by a number and then one, two, or three letters. W3ABC is an example of a valid US amateur radio station call sign (T1C02).

After you pass the test, the FCC will assign you a call sign sequentially from the pool of available call signs. If you do not like this callsign, you can apply for a vanity callsign. Any licensed amateur may select a desired call sign under the vanity call sign rules. (T1C12)

The callsign you select must not only be available, it must have an appropriate format for the class of license you hold. Extra class licensees are the only ones who may hold 1×2 or 2×1 callsigns. K1XXX is, therefore, is a vanity call sign which a Technician class amateur operator might select if available. (T1C05) A Technician class amateur radio operator may not choose the callsigns KA1X or W1XX.

Two years is the grace period following the expiration of an amateur license within which the license may be renewed. (T1C09) If you don’t renew your license before it expires, or within the two-year grace period, you will have to take the test again to get a new amateur radio license. If your license has expired and is still within the allowable grace period, transmitting is not allowed until the ULS database shows that the license has been renewed (T1C11).

Amateurs that set up stations at special events, such as a community fair or fundraising event, can request a special callsign specifically for that event. A special event call sign is the type of call sign that has a single letter in both the prefix and suffix (T1C01). An example of a special event callsign is W8P.

Clubs may apply for a station license for their club station. The club may even apply for a vanity call sign. At least 4 persons are required to be members of a club for a club station license to be issued by the FCC. (T1F12) Only the person named as trustee on the club station license grant may select a vanity call sign for a club station. (T1C14)

When you get your first license, you must give the examiners a mailing address. Should you move, you must inform the FCC of your new mailing address. Revocation of the station license or suspension of the operator license may result when correspondence from the FCC is returned as undeliverable because the grantee failed to provide the correct mailing address (T1C07).

You are allowed to operate your amateur station in a foreign country when the foreign country authorizes it (T1C04). Sometimes countries have reciprocal licensing agreements, and you can operate from that country without any specific authorization. For example, I could operate my station in Germany by simply using the callsign DL/KB6NU. There are restrictions on your operating privileges, depending on the country from which you plan to operate, and you should investigate these before you get on the air.

You can also operate your station while aboard a ship in international waters. An FCC- licensed amateur station may transmit from any vessel or craft located in international waters and documented or registered in the United States, in addition to places where the FCC regulates communications (T1C06).

2014 Tech study guide: ITU, frequency allocations, modes

The ITU is a United Nations agency for information and communication technology issues.(T1B01) There are three ITU regions. North American amateur stations are located in ITU region 2.

One of the reasons that it is important to know about the ITU zones is important is that different zones often have different frequency assignments. For example, the frequency assignments for some U.S. Territories different from those in the 50 U.S. States because some U. S. Territories are located in ITU regions other than region 2. (T1B02) [97.301] Similarly, frequency assignments for U.S. stations operating maritime mobile are not the same everywhere in the world because amateur frequency assignments can vary among the three ITU regions. (T1B12) [97.301]

Because operation outside of the amateur radio bands is a serious offense, it is important to know about the frequencies and bands that amateur radio operators can use:

  • 52.525 MHz is a frequency within the 6 meter band. (T1B03)
  • The 2 meter band is the amateur band are you using when your station is transmitting on 146.52 MHz. (T1B04)
  • 443.350 MHz is the 70 cm frequency is authorized to a Technician Class license holder operating in ITU Region 2. (T1B05)
  • 1296 MHz is a 23 cm frequency is authorized to a Technician Class licensee. (T1B06)
  • 1.25 meter band is the amateur band are you using if you are transmitting on 223.50 MHz. (T1B07)

All of these choices are correct when thinking about why you should not set your transmit frequency to be exactly at the edge of an amateur band or sub-band (T1B09):

  • To allow for calibration error in the transmitter frequency display
  • So that modulation sidebands do not extend beyond the band edge
  • To allow for transmitter frequency drift

In addition to defining which frequencies are available to amateur radio operators, the FCC also defines sub-bands for various modes. For example, CW only is the emission mode permitted in the mode-restricted sub-bands at 50.0 to 50.1 MHz and 144.0 to 144.1 MHz (T1B11) [97.301(a), 97.305 (a)(c)]. The 6 meter, 2 meter, and 1.25 meter bands are the bands available to Technician Class operators that have mode-restricted sub-bands (T1B10) [97.301(e), 97.305(c)]. The use of SSB phone in amateur bands above 50 MHz is permitted in at least some portion of all the amateur bands above 50 MHz. (T2B13)

Amateur radio frequency operators share some bands with users from other services. Sometimes, amateurs are the primary users, such as the 2m band, but sometimes amateur radio operators are secondary users. One result of the fact that the amateur service is secondary in some portions of the 70 cm band is that U.S. amateurs may find non-amateur stations in the bands, and must avoid interfering with them. (T1B08) [97.303]

2014 Tech study guide: FCC rules – Amateur Radio Service

The Amateur Radio Service is a service administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is the agency regulates and enforces the rules for the Amateur Radio Service in the United States. (T1A02) Part 97 is the part of the FCC regulations contains the rules governing the Amateur Radio Service. (T1A03)

Part 97.1 lists five “purposes” for the existence of amateur radio. The first is recognition of its usefulness in providing emergency and public-service communications. My favorite, enhancing international goodwill is another purpose of the Amateur Radio Service rules and regulations as defined by the FCC. (T1A05)

The rules also cite the use of amateur radio as a way to help people become better technicians and operators. Advancing skills in the technical and communication phases of the radio art is a purpose of the Amateur Radio Service as stated in the FCC rules and regulations. (T1A01) Allowing a person to conduct radio experiments and to communicate with other licensed hams around the world is a permissible use of the Amateur Radio Service. (T1A12)

Part 97 also defines terms and concepts that every amateur radio operator needs to know. For example, the FCC Part 97 definition of an amateur station is a station in the Amateur Radio Service consisting of the apparatus necessary for carrying on radio communications. (T1A10)

One of the most important concepts in amateur radio is that of harmful interference. The FCC definition of harmful interference is that which seriously degrades, obstructs, or repeatedly interrupts a radio communication service operating in accordance with the Radio Regulations. (T1A04) At no time is willful interference to other amateur radio stations permitted. (T1A11)

The Radionavigation Service is one of the services are protected from interference by amateur signals under all circumstances. (T1A06) If you are operating on the 23 cm band and learn that you are interfering with a radiolocation station outside the United States, you must stop operating or take steps to eliminate the harmful interference. (T1A14)

The FCC Part 97 definition of telemetry is a one-way transmission of measurements at a distance from the measuring instrument. (T1A07) Transmitting telemetry is one of the very few examples of a one-way amateur communication. Another is sending telecommands, usually to a satellite or radio-control model. The FCC Part 97 definition of telecommand is a one-way transmission to initiate, modify or terminate functions of a device at a distance. (T1A13)

The Frequency Coordinator is the entity that recommends transmit/receive channels and other parameters for auxiliary and repeater stations. (T1A08) Amateur operators in a local or regional area whose stations are eligible to be auxiliary or repeater stations select a Frequency Coordinator. (T1A09)

2014 Tech study guide: radio direction finding; radio control; contests; linking over the Internet; grid locators

For some odd reason, the question pool committee deleted the question about special event station callsigns and replaced it with another question about IRLP. Not only that, they added a few more questions about IRLP to this section. I think they should have kept the question about special events and eliminated the gateway question (T8C11) instead…Dan

There are many different ways to have fun with amateur radio. Contesting, for example, is a popular operating activity that involves contacting as many stations as possible during a specified period of time. (T8C03) When contacting another station in a radio contest, a good procedure is to send only the minimum information needed for proper identification and the contest exchange. (T8C04)

In VHF/UHF contests, stations often send each other their grid locators. A grid locator is a letter-number designator assigned to a geographic location. (T8C05)

One fun activity that is very practical is radio direction finding. You would use radio direction finding equipment and skills to participate in a hidden transmitter hunt, sometimes called a “fox hunt.” In addition to participating in this kind of contest, radio direction finding is one of the methods used to locate sources of noise interference or jamming. (T8C01) A directional antenna would be useful for a hidden transmitter hunt. (T8C02)

Some amateurs get licensed because they like to build and operate radio-controlled models, including boats, planes, and automobiles. The maximum power allowed when transmitting telecommand signals to radio controlled models is 1 watt. (T8C07) In place of on-air station identification when sending signals to a radio control model using amateur frequencies, a label indicating the licensee’s name, call sign and address must be affixed to the transmitter.(T8C08)

If the only radios that you have are VHF or UHF radios, you might want to look into EchoLink and the Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP). The Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) is a technique to connect amateur radio systems, such as repeaters, via the Internet using Voice Over Internet Protocol. (T8C13) Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP),  as used in amateur radio, is a method of delivering voice communications over the Internet using digital techniques. (T8C12)

Stations that connect to EchoLink or IRLP are called nodes. One way to obtain a list of active nodes that use VoIP is from a repeater directory. (T8C09) You access an IRLP node by using DTMF signals. (T8C06) To select a specific IRLP node when using a portable transceiver, use the keypad to transmit the IRLP node ID. (T8C10)

Sometimes nodes are also called gateways. A gateway is the name given to an amateur radio station that is used to connect other amateur stations to the Internet. (T8C11)

2014 Tech study guide: satellite operation

In this section, one question was dropped and another about Keplerian elements was added…Dan

As a Technician Class licensee, you can make contacts via amateur radio satellites. Any amateur whose license privileges allow them to transmit on the satellite uplink frequency may be the control operator of a station communicating through an amateur satellite or space station. (T8B01)

Amateur satellites are basically repeaters in space. As such they have an uplink frequency, which is the frequency on which you transmit and the satellite receives, and a downlink frequency, on which the satellite transmits and you receive. As with other transmissions, the minimum amount of power needed to complete the contact should be used on the uplink frequency of an amateur satellite or space station. (T8B02)

Often, the uplink frequency and downlink frequency are in different amateur bands. For example, when a satellite is operating in “mode U/V,” the satellite uplink is in the 70 cm band and the downlink is in the 2 meter band. (T8B08)

The International Space Station often has amateur radio operators on board. Any amateur holding a Technician or higher class license may make contact with an amateur station on the International Space Station using 2 meter and 70 cm band amateur radio frequencies. (T8B04) Like most amateur satellites, the Space Station is in low earth orbit. When used to describe an amateur satellite, the initials LEO means that the satellite is in a Low Earth Orbit. (T8B10)

Amateur satellites are often equipped with beacons. A satellite beacon is a transmission from a space station that contains information about a satellite. (T8B05) FM Packet is a commonly used method of sending signals to and from a digital satellite. (T8B11)

How do you know when you are able to communicate via an amateur satellite? A satellite tracking program can be used to determine the time period during which an amateur satellite or space station can be accessed. (T8B03) The Keplerian elements are inputs to a satellite tracking program. (T8B06)

Two problems that you must deal with when communicating via satellite is Doppler shift and spin fading. Doppler shift is an observed change in signal frequency caused by relative motion between the satellite and the earth station. (T8B07) Rotation of the satellite and its antennas causes “spin fading” of satellite signals. (T8B09)